General, Music, Records

A case of the old (guard) making the new exciting again

Few long term EDM (electronic dance music) fans can claim not to be familiar with A Guy Called Gerald (AGCG)–and for good reason. He’s been making funky and genre-defining dance music since the mid- to late 1980s. Before making dance music history with this release, Gerald Simpson made abstract and futuristic acid house as the creative lead behind 808 State. After the success of “Voodoo Ray” and his split with the band (a detailed and interesting account of those times can be found here), Simpson embarked on a solo career, forging ahead as one of the originators of the style that would come to be called Drum’n’Bass, years before this innovative genre gained mainstream exposure.

After a hiatus of about six years, AGCG is back on track with some great new and once again original and genre defining–and defying–releases. After his recent album-length project on Studio !K7, Gerald has released an understated single on his own new label–Sugoi Recordings–in 2005. He followed that ep in 2006 with a more straightforward album from a live session from December of 2005, which includes strong cuts regardless of attempts at trying to pigeonhole them into a single genre–as is all too often done.

A May 2007 twelve inch release consists of two extended tracks from the Berlin Sessions album. “Voltar” is vaguely reminiscent of the same ephemeral quality as “Pacific State”–a track AGCG made toward the very end of his stint with 808 State–backed by a more pronounced beat than the summery almost-anthem. The ethereal synth pads and that almost unforgettable bassline of “Pacific State” are replaced on “Voltar” with exotically rhythmic bird chirps, while the bassline is carried by a syncopated sub-bass pattern that leaves one wondering what (if anything) inspires the dozens of present-day producers to make music, since the bass and overall composition of “Voltar” is as futuristic and original sounding as anything I’ve heard described as “cutting edge” or “unlike anything that’s been done before”. This record’s merits don’t end there, however, as Gerald treats all of the melodic and deep-tech heads to a B-side treat that is “Sweet You”. Carried along by a jazzy, subtle brush rhythm and augmented by a beautiful melody that’s more emotive than the majority of releases labeled “techno” nowadays, this flipside track evokes the moodiness and beauty of the best Detroit Techno releases–think Derrick May’s “Icon” or “The Dance”, U.R.’s “The Theory”, or the melody on the second half of Theo Parrish’s “Dark Patterns”. However, “Sweet You” effortlessly holds its own in the company of these esteemed releases.

Now, as quite a few EDM fans nowadays may be missing the point of it, or simply aren’t aware of or don’t understand the cultural/musical context of the vast style that is Detroit Techno–or Chicago House for that matter–Gerald Simpson also released an excellent track that can very comfortably sit along–not to mention head and shoulders above–the majority of releases in the current catch-all style definition of the present day–“minimal”, or “mnml” to emphasize the sparse–if not to say lacking–presence of originality or compositional depth of this vague stylistic description. “Bodecka” offers a wide variety of compositional elements that elude immediate categorization (if such is even necessary). The visceral bass that underpins the track recalls the rolling bass sequences that were the seductive compliment to the oft-sampled Amen break in many drum’n’bass tracks, while the track morphs through elements of dub (the elusive echo that weaves in and out of the track), soul (the vocal snippets), and is complimented by the fitting, flammed 4/4 beat that sounds almost slightly unquantized–to great effect.

Gerald Simpson’s recent releases have gained even more contextual strength by his strong live performances during this year’s DEMF weekend. His live show featured abstract and almost experimental-sounding moments reminiscent of his early compositions made during his 808 State days, alongside extremely complex, raw, and almost foot breaking (for the dancers) drum’n’bass rhythms. If that wasn’t enough for fans that prefer AGCG’s earliest musical output, his broken rendition of the seminal “Voodoo Ray” has morphed into a slightly updated four-to-the-floor version of the track during the latter part of his performance, followed by what were either his own edits of obscure disco tracks, or new constructions altogether that could be classified as either disco or funk, depending on how one would describe each style. To please old and new fan alike, Gerald also incorporated the vocal from this acid house staple throughout his performance.

AGCG’s live show in Detroit was a pleasant, refreshing and visceral reminder of the importance of genre diversification during live EDM performances or DJ sets, and even further proof that musical acumen does not come right out of the box with a copy of _______(fill in the name of currently hot music-making software), but is acquired and perfected over time… If one considers what was a very evident dose of paying homage to EDM’s musical roots in Gerald’s live set in Detroit (and all if not most of his productions), then it will be easy to see the self-evident fact that drawing upon a very rich musical heritage as Gerald does is a huge benefit to the dancer and listener alike.

9 Comments

  1. Totally in agreement. AGCG was one of my favorite sets at DEMF even though I only caught the last half hour. He has his own sound. I love his rhythms, very syncopated. Guy is a genius.

  2. Hmm…I realised that I have Voltar/Sweet You but I don’t remember any melody on Sweet You. I’ll have to dig it up. Voltar has that deep, rainforest sound and the rhythms I am talking about. They make your limbs go all angular and shit.

    The Sugoi record (Flo-Ride) is excellent as well. But I think it’s only available from overseas.

  3. Gotta come back & read entire article.

    Got a question for now. I picked up the first pressing of Voodoo Ray in the states as an import cut on that UK double LP, … underground sounds … North Side (something like that).

    I also picked up 808 State’s “Quadrastate” EP. Remember really only giving “Pacific State” extensive play …But there was another cut off the EP(can’t recall title now) I gave some shine, too. I think the other cuts on the EP didn’t mesh w/ what I called soulful or funky at the time.

    “Pacific State” & “Voodoo Ray”: adventurous dance tunes, especially in comparision to a lot of tunes out at the time. Both were truly progressive but, IMO, maintained the funk with ease. Derrick Mays early stuff come to mind, too – Especially “R-Theme,” “It Is What It Is,” “The Move,” “Strings Of Life,” … etc. Derrick May’s a bad mutha too.

    The question:
    You site Gerald Simpson as “as one of the originators of the style that would come to be called Drum’n’Bass, years before this innovative genre gained mainstream exposure.” I never familiarized myself with Drum N Bass.

    Hold…

    …Off on a tangent for a few:
    Heard spun live just once in a club in NYC (by the DJ in the sideroom while Tony Humphries was spinning in the main room. This was sometime, If I recall properly, during the mid to late 90’s).

    The Question: Is “Voodoo Ray” or “Pacific State” mention BY CONSENSUS when discussing the advent of Drum n Bass. … Also would the other cuts on the “Quadrastate” EP be close to Drum n Bass in actual sound?. I remember the sound as real dynamic, hi-tempo, and dancers REALLY moving to it.

    SoulFunkLifestyles Universally Converging !!!

  4. pipecock says:

    well, 808 state tunes have been being jacked by jungle/drum and bass tunes since the beginning of the genre. in basically every history of the genre, GCG and 808 state have to be mentioned as they were amongst the first UK producers to internalize what was going on in chicago and detroit and make it into their own. to my ears, both have that distinctively UK feeling to them that would later take a more firm foothold in releases on labels like Good Looking and Metalheadz. but for the more direct link between gerald and the roots of jungle, check his LP “28 gun badboy” which was way more futuristic and serious than other “hardcore” type stuff that was coming out in 93. that stuff as well as 4 hero and goldie and ltj bukem really took the breaks from hardcore but the feelings from house, techno, jazz, soul and mixed them together to make jungle.

  5. matt says:

    “AGCG’s live show in Detroit was a pleasant, refreshing and visceral reminder of the importance of genre diversification during live EDM performances or DJ sets”

    no. it sucked, and worse, it was boring as hell.

  6. lf says:

    “the bassline is carried by a syncopated sub-bass pattern that leaves one wondering what (if anything) inspires the dozens of present-day producers to make music”

    if anything

  7. Goose says:

    The beginning of Sweet You reminds me of a good marching band cadence on steroids (you mention the brush rhythm sound, but to me it sounds like a minimalized marching band)… I love cadences. Add in the drop, and it takes it to another level. The keys are definitely jazzy and funky to a level that you just dont hear very often. Personal Opinion: Sweet You > Voltar… but that’s like comparing Platinum to Gold, either way you still win.

  8. itch says:

    word is A Guy Called Gerald and Graham Massey (808 state) will perform a live analog set in London on 6th Oct at Wang’s night at Corsica Studios…
    1st show together since 1989!
    ** also andrew weatherall and simian mobile disco **
    http://www.wanging.com

  9. pipecock says:

    now *that* would be fun to see!

More like this...

Ten Years Lost

The more things change, the more things stay the same. I could just as well leave this post at that. Ten years ago Tom started this site with the basic idea of highlighting music that is overlooked by other outlets. The same frustrations that brought about the blog still stand. It may seem like we…

Read the full post →

Blogs Are Dead, Long Live Blogs!

The golden era of dance music blogging generally coincided with the start of this blog you are currently reading circa 2007, alongside some of the other blogs that went on to help define the past decade of dance music such as Little White Earbuds and mnml ssgs. There was an explosion of writers taking things…

Read the full post →